The Natural Bloomington Blog


Hoosier National Forest - Buzzard RoostThe days when Hoosier National Forest timber gleamed supreme in the eyes of U.S. Forest Service land managers seem to have been relegated to the fading pages of history. But when timber barons in Bedford did call the shots, they envisioned chainsaws everywhere.
When Forest Supervisor Harold Godlevske released the Hoosier’s first federally required management plan in 1985, it called for four-fifths of the public land’s verdant hills and valleys to eventually be clearcut on plots up to 30 acres. Godlevske’s predecessor Claude Ferguson once described that management style as “drawing circles on maps.”
“It makes it easy to go for coffee,” he said early in the 11-year war the ’85 clearcutting plan precipitated. “But it’s not forestry.”


In the time it took to zip and lace my hiking pants and boots, Saturday’s sky transformed from gleaming azure to a drizzling gray. But given that in the past three weeks I’ve performed just about every role I play except photographer – lecturer, author, carpenter, newsletter editor, blogger and, of course, grandpa – I was going to the woods, weather be damned, camera bag on the passenger-side floor.

As I approached Hunter’s Creek Road in northern Lawrence County south of the Monroe Lake causeway, beneath a black squall, I’d accepted the afternoon would entail a drive around the south end of the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area and not a photo hike through it. Not ideal, but I’d never actually followed that route from State Road 446 to the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower, and the drive did not involve typing, reading or sawing.

Less than mile from the trailhead, on a road so narrow that one local stopped to allow me to pass (unnecessary but telling), I emerged from the forest canopy into a broad, open, partially sun-drenched valley and noticed a dollop of sky blue to the northwest. I turned around in the Hunter’s Creek Pentecostal Church lot, drove back to the trailhead, and by the time I finished my sesame sticks and fig bars, my windshield had stopped watering up.



Organizationally speaking, Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas’s decisions must satisfy broad goals set by the President and Congress, which, respectively, oversee and fund the U.S. Forest Service. In terms of details like how, when and where those directives are satisfied, his “marching orders” come from the agency’s national and regional offices.

But the American people – and not just those in Southern Indiana – own the 202,000 acres of wooded landscape that Chaveas and his staff oversee. And, when it comes to day-to-day and year-to-year management decisions on recreation, preservation, wildlife, habitat restoration, logging and other concerns, theirs are the opinions he needs the most.

“It’s public land,” he said during a July 17 interview in his Bedford office. “… We want them to let us know how they feel. We want them to let us know what they want from their forest.”


The Hoosier National Forest may or may not be the smallest in the nation. Ditto the most fragmented. But depending the persepctive, both are true. And that presents unique challenges for those who manage the 202,000 acres of public land that stretches from the shores of Monroe Lake near Bloomington to the Ohio River at Tell City.

“It’s complicated is the short answer,” Hoosier Supervisor Mike Chaveas said during a July 17 interview at his office in Bedford. The extensive boundary lines and overall “chunked up” nature of the Hoosier (and other forests in the U.S. Forest Service’s Eastern Region) creates complexity for forest managers.

“The Hoosier National Forest, it’s maybe not the most fragmented,” he said. “But it’s pretty close to being the most fragmented national forest in the whole system, across the country.”


Mike Chaveas’s first glimpse of Southern Indiana came in the mountains of eastern Morocco. After earning a bachelor’s degree in wildlife science at Virginia Tech in 1998, the Virginia native spent two years in the Peace Corps in the eastern High Atlas Mountains. He was working as a wildlife biologist on a proposed national park when he learned about the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) masters program.

Before Africa, Chaveas (pronounced like Chavez with a short a) expected to pursue a career as a wildlife biologist.

“That was primarily my interest at the time,” the Hoosier National Forest Supervisor said during a July 17, 2015, interview at his office in Bedford, Ind.



Austin and Mary Ann Gardner Memorial WoodsI received the copyedited version of my Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana manuscript from IU Press on Friday and immediately realized I had given no thought whatsoever to an epigraph. A serious oversight, I'd say, for a book designed to motivate readers to explore and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds them.

This is my last chance to tweak the text. So, the time to add a quote or saying that expresses the book's theme is now. And, given my Sierra Club focus at this stage of life, the source for that inspiration was obvious. It had to be John Muir.

This summer I read two of his books -- The Story of My Boyhood and Youth and A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf. And next Sunday, I will be certified to lead hikes by the Sierra Club he founded in 1892. Here's the quote I've decided on, so far:


Morgan-Monroe State ForestTo say the spirits accompanied us on Friday's first Natural Bloomington Family Ecotour would understate the case dramatically.

The idea was spawned after retired Bloomington school teacher Nancy Kryway read The Herald-Times article on our ecotour with the American Council of the Blind and asked if I could lead her, husband Jim (both nature-loving history buffs) and their visiting granddaughters Emma, 14, and Ava, 9, on a geode-hunting expedition. They had purchased geodes before but had not found them in the wild, she said.


Leonard Springs Nature ParkAugust is a time of transition in Bloomington, and so it goes at Natural Bloomington. This past week I worked with the folks at IU Press on some minor tweaks to the Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana manuscript, which is in the hands of a copyeditor now and scheduled to land back in my lap for one last look on Aug. 17. Other than preparing the index -- which is 90 percent complete already -- and proofing the layout, my part is done.

So in addition to thinking about some Fall outings, I am transitioning to some new, nature-related projects as my student neighbors here in the Bryan Park Neighborhood transform and remind that I will be back in the classroom in less than a month.


The Outdoors page in Sunday's edition of The Herald-Times features an account of last week's ecotour with members of the Heartland Association of the American Council of the Blind. Page editor Carol Kugler took the entire four-hour ecotour with us and wrote an excellent cover story that captures the spirits of the day and ecotourism. Here's the lead:

Local ecotours offer chance to responsibly enjoy nature

Getting people outside to enjoy the scenic, natural beauty of southern Indiana. That’s the basic goal of Natural Bloomington, a project created by Bloomington’s Steven Higgs, who has worked as an environmental reporter and writer for a number of years and runs a news website.


Leonard Springs Nature PreserveComparing ecotours is a bit like comparing your kids. Each is different. And there are no favorites. But as I told Saturday's ecotour guests on a four-hour journey through wetlands, caves, waterfalls and old-growth forest around and in Bloomington, this one, sponsored by the Heartland Association of the American Council of the Blind, was special. Here's a Photo Album.

I've always sought diversity in my ecotour guests, who have ranged from rural Ellettsville seniors to Indy Sierrans to IU students, whose ethnicities include Chinese, Pakistani, Indian and Syrian. But I had never imagined leading a group of folks with visual impairments into a cave. And their enthusiasm and curiosity were unmatched, not to mention their stamina and adventurous spirits. Due to a slow start, we dropped our first planned hike and still went more than an hour beyond our scheduled tour.


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